How much better are the Clippers with Chris Paul?

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After days of rumors, a league-vetoed trade, and a series of on-again, off-again talks with multiple teams, the Hornets have finally reached an agreement to trade Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers get Paul and two future second round picks, and the Hornets get Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, and most importantly, the rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ unprotected 2012 first round draft pick.

As the Clippers’ co-tenants at Staples Center will no doubt argue to whomever will listen that their original three-team deal to obtain Paul was a better one for all teams involved, the fact remains that the league’s best point guard is now on the same team as Blake Griffin, the prospect of which undoubtedly is already making fans around the league drool in anticipation of the sick alley-oops that will dominate the highlights this season.

Beyond the highlights, though, just how much better can the Clippers expect to be with Paul in the starting lineup? If everything comes together, a playoff berth should be the minimum jump the team makes from last season’s somewhat exciting but ultimately losing campaign that finished with a record of just 32-50.

L.A. is now loaded at guard, with Paul, Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, and Mo Williams all in place. Billups could easily start alongside Paul, and may well benefit from double-teams that Griffin may face down low, or the ones that Paul may command as he breaks down the defense with his dribble penetration. Then again, Billups may be unhappy with this new development and may asked to be released so he can sign with a contender. Either way, Bledsoe and Mo Williams should fill the two-guard spot serviceably, if nothing else.

DeAndre Jordan will be down low next to Griffin, after the Clippers matched Golden State’s offer sheet of four years and $42 million for the restricted free agent center. Caron Butler can start on the wing, and now there’s legitimate excitement in Clipper-land, with recognizable star power that should be able to produce more than just highlights on the basketball court.

The ceiling for the Clippers this season is probably the first round of the playoffs. L.A. should have no trouble sliding into the postseason slot that the Hornets secured last season, but depth will be an issue, and the team’s ability to take down Western Conference giants like the Mavericks, Thunder, Lakers, or even Grizzlies in a first round playoff series can be classified as doubtful at best.

But this trade wasn’t about immediately contending for a championship. It was about securing one of the league’s marquee stars to pair harmoniously alongside Griffin, and turning L.A.’s “other” NBA team into a desirable destination for other free agents in the future.

Unquestionably, the Clippers accomplished it all by bringing Chris Paul to Los Angeles.